Table Talk - A Designer Interview Series With Mike Hill - Feat. Bryan Merlonghi
I recently had the opportunity to meet Bryan Merlonghi for a night of beers and board games. He taught me and my friend Jordan Nichols, of Game Night, his upcoming release from AEG, Cutthroat Kingdoms. While we played I got to ask him some questions about games and himself.
Tell me a little about yourself and your history with boardgames.
I'm Bryan Merlonghi, and I'm a deeply entrenched humanist, writer, life-coach and teacher. I seek to inspire social closeness and cinematic immersion with my game design, and truly believe that the secret of life is buried in a loud laugh, and good times with friends over a board game.
When I played Hero's Quest for the first time, it was all over for me. That was my first board game beyond Candyland and Monopoly. Hero's Quest completely enraptured me with the minis, the tiles, and the board. It made Life look like a children's game with its dark themes and edgy art. That was my gateway drug. I went on to stumble into my first game store, The Days of Knights, and fell head-over-heels into the rabbit hole as I stared at the wall of GW / Ral Partha miniatures. I was in love.
What got you into game design?
Dungeons and Dragons got me into game design, without a question. Every day, after finishing my homework, I'd lock myself in my room and create. I created worlds and games. I just got lost in the idea that I could augment my reality with the power of imagination. I'd even take some of my world-building outside, into the woods (a place I spent a lot of time), and pretended I was a druid, and was concocting magical potions using special leaves, searching for talisman shards in the creek (which was actually pottery).
Board games became my preferred method of design when I found out the power of bringing people together. There is no medium better than a board game to invoke social immersion. Video games are not even close to getting on the level of board game potential when it comes to socializing players. That's why I choose to design socially infused board games because I'm trying to maximize my medium for what it best offers.
Is Cutthroat your first game you ever designed? If not, what was the first game you ever designed?
Cutthroat wasn't the first game I designed. I began designing games when I was 8 years old when my dad came home with an IBM 286, 12mhz PC. The game was called 'Edmund', and it was a simple AI where the computer talked to you, the player, like a friend and had to guess how you were feeling that day by your answers to simple questions.
Following that I designed probably 15+ video games, and 1 very simple board game from the ages of 8-12. Some of them ranged from simple programs like 'Edmund', Zork-like adventure games, to a full-fledged Zelda clone. None of these saw the light of day as it was just entertainment for me, and it was still an era where games were the rebellious and looked-down-upon stepchild of business applications.
Favorite game mechanic?
Honestly, even though it's a relatively new game, Evolution's trait cards really do it for me. As a former biology student, I feel like I'm actively in control of evolution itself by assigning traits and building a species from inception to (hopefully) rampant fertility. I completely geeked out over creating a species of fat foragers. They were like my little victory point machine!
Favorite game at the moment?
Evolution is certainly up there, because I'm a hardcore nature nerd. I've been really into Mystic Vale. I absolutely cannot wait to see what is in store for the Card Crafting System. The game is about growing mana from nature... so the nature nerd thing still rings true, ha! I may know a few secrets about that game and its future, but I can't tell or else they'll kill me.
Favorite game night food?
Pasta. Imagine everyone at the table playing Blood Feud in New York while eating pasta. Somebody has to be smoking a cigar too. But not me.
If you could game with any person dead or alive who would it be and what would you play?
Honestly, I'd like to play Diplomacy with Kim Jong Un. Tell me that wouldn't be amazing. Watching him cry like a baby and bang the table when I beat him would be the highlight of my life.
What's next for Bryan Merlonghi?
The next game is 7 Days... a plane crash survival game that deals with the trauma of surviving in the wilderness, and the choice between helping the group, or going it alone when rescue isn't an option. Look for that to be released by AEG soon.
I can personally say that both Cutthroat Kingdoms and 7Days are great games. Keep an eye out for AEG to be releasing both soon. A huge thank you to Bryan for taking the time to show me his great new games and answer some questions. If you ever get a chance to meet Bryan say hi, he's a really cool dude.